Jessica Anderson earned her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Missouri. She is now an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisiana Monroe.
Growing up in small town South Dakota did not keep Jessica Anderson from thinking globally. Anderson had a passion for global perspectives on human rights issues, but it was a brief visit to The Hague, The Netherlands that set her mind in motion. Though she didn’t know it at the time, this excursion while studying abroad as an undergraduate would lead her on a fascinating research journey.
It was on this trip that Anderson first heard of the International Criminal Court (ICC), located by the North Sea in an International Zone in the City of The Hague. She was enthralled by a tour of the court. Here, she listened to guides discuss the trials of some of the worst war criminals in the world.
Anderson, a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, was reintroduced to the ICC while in her first years of graduate school. Over time, this interest grew into a passion for human rights law and global studies. Anderson has come full circle from that first brief visit to the ICC, and she has now devoted her intellectual energy to examining the processes of this judicial body.
The ICC was formed in 1998 by the Rome Statute. However, the court was not officially established until July of 2002, when the Rome Statue was ratified by 60 States around the world. Since its founding, the ICC investigates and tries cases of individuals, not countries, who are accused of four mass crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
“These are things that usually occur within the setting of a civil war,” Anderson explained. “The [ICC] targets the leaders of these countries for the actions that they undertook during these civil wars. It targets individuals who are accused of massacring villages, conscripting child soldiers, committing war-time rape. Really terrible things. The baddest, bad guys.”
Since its beginning, 23 cases have been brought before the court with four verdicts: three persons were found guilty and one acquittal. The ICC’s goal is to foster peace through justice, hold criminals accountable, and prevent mass atrocities from happening again.
Anderson’s research investigates the process through which the ICC choses who they will bring to trial. How do they decide which criminals to bring to justice?
“My research looks at countries that have really completely fallen apart, countries that most of us have never been to. They are very poor, usually underdeveloped countries.”
With atrocities happening in different regions all over the world, it is hard to know how the court choses which individuals to bring to trial.
“It would be infeasible to bring everybody who is accused of human rights abuses before the court, and my research looks at how exactly they do that,” said Anderson. In some cases it is difficult “to focus on and to find the individuals most responsible.”
However, that does not mean the court operates free of criticism because of its choices. Anderson explained that many critics have argued that the court is biased, as all current cases have been brought against African individuals.
“There are a lot of criticisms that [the court] is biased, that it only focuses on individuals in African countries, and that it overlooks atrocities that western leaders carry out,” she says. “For example, there are criticisms that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should be brought before the ICC” for their roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics of the ICC argue that individuals like Bush and Cheney are being overlooked, because they are American; the court is too focused on African leaders and not enough on Western countries.
That is where Anderson’s work begins. Her research addresses the accusations that the court is biased. In her study, where she examines data coming out of the court and case studies on individual countries, she argues that the court is not inherently biased.
“It’s a small sample,” as the court has only been operating for fourteen years and is without retroactive jurisdiction. “My research shows that the court is not inherently racist, that they’re trying the best they can.”
She does this “by showing that the Court investigates the worst human rights abuses and is expanding its focus beyond African countries” in more recent years. Essentially, she “attempts to identify any systemic biases guiding the Court’s case selection” but has found that the ICC targets the worse human rights abusers, “many of which are African leaders.”
Additionally, Anderson looks at how the court reacts to issues involving gender violence.
“Gender is a really fascinating question, because very recently the Court convicted an individual for war-time rape,” Anderson explained. “It’s one of the first times we see gender-based violence really take precedence in the international criminal arena. War-time rape has only been considered an international crime and a war-crime for about a decade.”
With this research, Anderson wants to support the court and show that it is not biased. The critics are very strong, and there is a threat that some nations may begin to withdraw from the court. She wants to get people interested and concerned about this.
“This really innovative court which was created to try to end human rights abuses is under threat of falling apart.” She hopes to prove that the court is doing useful work, and that, while it looks like it might be biased on the outside, it is not led by biases. “It is doing the best that it can, and it is making a positive difference in the world.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of Anderson’s research, is that it changes each day, as the Court continues to function in real time.
“It is an exciting time to be studying the court,” Anderson added with a smile. “It was kind of slow moving in the beginning. They didn’t have convictions for the first ten years that they were functioning.”
Over the years, the court’s operations have become more solidified, and the true impact of the court is being seen. The ICC has grown, and with continued funding, it will be able to try more cases, allowing more of the world’s criminals to be held accountable for their crimes.
Anderson is a self-defined nerd. She loves to read the law, especially international and human rights law.
“It’s so new. It’s so wide open, and constantly changing,” she says.
Approaching this research is like putting together a puzzle as she reads through various legal charters and documents to interpret the law.
“It’s not something that a lot of people are studying, except lawyers. It’s being talked about among legal scholars, but not amongst the wider academic community.”
Her academic background allows her to study the Court from a non-legalistic point of view. Though she has not completely ruled out law school as a future possibility based on her intense interest in international and global law, Anderson hopes to take an academic position when she concludes her degree. As a professor, she can share her love for knowledge and learning with others.
Anderson presented this research at the inaugural Mizzou Three Minute Thesis competition in October of 2015 where she was awarded second place. She then presented again at the regional competition with the Midwest Association of Graduate Schools in Chicago.
Anderson completes her degree in the summer of 2017, and has accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisiana Monroe.